What is Active Listening?

Term coined by Thomas Gordon (psychologist & friend of Carl
Rogers): “Active listening is certainly not complex. Listeners
need only restate, in their own language, their impression of
the expression of the sender.”
It is a communication technique that requires the listener to
feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating
or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to
confirm what they have heard and to confirm understanding

ACTIVE LISTENING IS A STRUCTURED WAY OF
LISTENING AND RESPONDING TO OTHERS.
Types of Listening in a Caring Relationship
There are various levels of helpful listening in any relationship:
1. Silence – using non-verbal demonstrations of interest &
attention (eye contact and body language crucial).
2. Non-committal acknowledgments of the other’s words
(example: “Oh,” “I see,” “Mm hmm,” “How about that,”
“Really?” “You did, huh?” etc.) implying you want to hear
him/her.
3. Invitations to say more (example: “Tell me about it,” “I’d like
to hear more,” “Would you like to talk about it?” “Sounds like
you’ve got some pretty strong ideas/feelings about this,” “I’d
be interested in what you have to say,” “Want to talk a little?”)
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4. Paraphrasing or saying in your own words the content of
other’s words to check for accuracy and to show the other that
you are listening and attentive. It helps the care receiver to
know whether his/her thoughts are being understood.
5. Active listening is structured empathetic listening that allows
the listener to get below the words and facts to the feelings
being expressed by the other. Most messages contain both
facts and feelings and it is crucial that the listener knows what
feelings are underneath the words. For example, someone
might say, “My 18 year old wants to leave home.” Does he/she
mean, “I’m scared, I will miss him/her, I don’t want him/her to
leave,” or “What a relief that will be. No more family hassles”?
Source: Developing a Caring Community, Alban Institute

Benefits of Active Listening:







Helps the other person feel heard
Validates their experiences and feelings
Demonstrates sincerity and builds rapport and trust
Facilitates their processing of feelings & experiences
Encourages the other person to open up and share
Specific, learnable skills
Avoids misunderstandings by clarifying content, both what
is said and what is missing or inferred
Can also help diffuse anxiety or conflict

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ACTIVE LISTENING SKILL: PRESENCE




90% of ministry is just being there, nothing more
I tell myself to “just show up and shut up”
Ministry of crying-together
Accompaniment or Celtic tradition of anamcara, or soul
friend
Bearing witness & walking with someone

I’ve found that the most comforting thing during moments
in my own struggles is someone to simply be still with me.
I don’t need advice or solutions, and maybe not even
someone to “understand” – I just need someone to be
broken with me. It’s about sharing our humanity with
someone. No words are usually required because a hug or
hand speaks volumes. Tears speak, too. (Mihee Kim-Kort)

Caring Non-Verbally



75% to 90% of communication is non-verbal
Listening with our whole bodies and not just our ears
We are NEVER saying nothing
Make sure your words and non-verbal behavior
communicate the same thing. If they don’t, people will
believe your non-verbal behavior.
When a person is talking to you, show non-verbal signs that
you’re listening… that you’re present, not somewhere else
mentally.
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COMMUNICATION MODES:
WORDS – 7% OF TOTAL COMMUNICATION
TONE OF VOICE – 38% OF TOTAL COMMUNICATION
BODY LANGUAGE – 55% OF TOTAL COMMUNICATION

Signs of Listening include:





Eye contact (depending on culture)
Nodding
Leaning in
Moving onto the person’s eye level
Body positioning turning towards the person
Raised eyebrows & facial expressions

Signs of NOT Listening include:



Body positioning turning away
Looking elsewhere – computer screen, your watch or
phone
Eyes wandering
No response at all

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TOOL: LEAD-OFF QUESTIONS




Question that begins an interaction
Sometimes necessary, sometimes not
Different styles between those who are introverted in their
caring interactions and those who are extroverted
Depends on existing relationship & history
Not leading – goal is to open up the conversation and not
to set or imply an agenda

Examples of Lead-Off Questions:










“How’s it going today?” “How are you feeling today?”
“How are you faring?”
“How is your spirit today?”
“So what’s going on for you?”
“You seem *observation+. What’s going on?”
“What’s happened with you since the last time I was
here/we talked?”
“Is there anything on your mind you would like to talk
about?”
“What’s been going on lately?”
“Tell me about… *something that happened recently+?”
“How’s your family?”
“How did *something previously discussed+ work out?”

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ACTIVE LISTENING SKILL: PARAPHRASE





Paraphrasing is the act of saying back in your own words
what you heard them say
Summarizes content that has been shared
This skill does not deal with emotions unless they are
directly mentioned by the speaker
Requires that the listener give their full attention to the
speaker and takes concentration
Gives the listener a chance to check out their perception of
what was said and to identify gaps in communication
Gives the speaker a sense of being heard and often enables
them to go deeper into what they are sharing and, if
present, to break out of cycling they are stuck in

Paraphrase structure = STEM + CONTENT
Stem is introductory language that allows you to enter into the
paraphrase process
Purpose of the stem is to give you time to get your thoughts
together and to let the speaker know that you are attempting
to give them feedback on what they’ve just said





You are saying that…
What I hear you saying is that…
You are telling me that…
If I am hearing you right, you are…
Let me say what I am hearing…
So…
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Content: Key Words (chunking it down)


Identifying key words in the person’s statements or stories
Much easier than trying to remember everything that was
said
Can hold these key words or “chunks” in your memory and
use them for anchors when you are paraphrasing back to
the speaker
Key words can be verbs, nouns, adjectives, anything that
holds the meaning of the verbal communication

PARAPHRASE
Saying back in your own words what the speaker has just
said
Utilize keywords and chunking
STEM + CONTENT
Checks reception of information and identifies missing
information
Speaker feels like they have been heard

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ACTIVE LISTENING SKILL: PRODUCTIVE QUESTIONS

Questions based on:
o Free information (ideas or feelings)
o Deleted information
o Distortions (words of inclusion or exclusion)
o Responses to other questions you have asked
Congruent questions, relevant to the subject that is shared
by the speaker

One needs to be especially aware of the power of the right
question at the right time, to illicit the type of information and
reflection that is helpful to the speaker.

PRODUCTIVE QUESTIONS ARE THE FUEL
FOR THE CONVERSATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT
TO REFLECTION FOR THE SPEAKER

Questions Based on Free Information



Used to prompt the speaker’s story
Questions give the speaker permission to share more about
themselves and their concerns
While someone is sharing, they often give information for
which you did not ask
The listener can then utilize what is shared to base
questions on for further prompting the speaker’s story and
concerns
Questions can be based on facts, ideas, or feelings
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Meeting the Speaker Where They Are

An important purpose of free information is that it
indicates the agenda of the speaker, which may be
conscious or not
Careful listeners will perceive this agenda and follow it –
this is what is meant by “meeting people where they are”
in one’s listening
This is a key part of active listening, specifically following
the agenda of the care receiver rather than the care giver’s
having their own agenda

This is a gift to the speaker, giving their story and experiences
value, and letting them know that you are willing to listen on
their terms.

PRODUCTIVE QUESTIONS
(based on free information)
Based on free information
Follows agenda of the speaker, not the listener
Often combined with paraphrase
(gives the speaker time to form the question,
affirms that you heard what was just shared)
Fuel for the conversation & reflection
But don’t be afraid of SILENCE, which can be space for
deeper reflection
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Productive Questions Based on DELETED INFORMATION:



Helps a person fill in the missing information that comes
from incomplete thoughts
Deletion is a hole in communication, when a statement is
generalized and leaves out specific detail
Fill in missing information, for greater awareness of what
has or is happening
But it is NOT necessary to fill in all deleted or missing
information, or else the speaker will feel like they are being
interrogated

Productive Questions Based on DISTORTED INFORMATION:



Based on a speaker’s use of generalizing words of inclusion
or exclusion
Words like: every, never, always, continually, forever, every
time, nobody, everyone, no one. All the time, constantly,
everywhere…
Represent a distortion of reality
Response can be a repetition of the distorted word or a
question about it
Distortion is a means of communicating an underlying
feeling or idea
The goal isn’t to challenge the distortion but rather to draw
out the underlying feeling and acknowledge it
Cautions about Addressing Distorted Information
This type question can be overused
Tone MUST be neutral, not judgmental
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PRODUCTIVE QUESTIONS
(based on deleted or distorted information)
Deleted information is a gap in communication
Productive questions help to fill in the gaps
It is not necessary to fill in all of the gaps
Judgment call on what to question further
Distorted information through generalized statements of
inclusion or exclusion
Questioning tone must be neutral & non-judging
Goal is drawing out underlying feelings & ideas

ACTIVE LISTENING SKILL: PERCEPTION CHECK OF FEELINGS



All of us are filled with feelings
When you acknowledge someone else’s feelings, you make
your caring felt and validate their experience
When we hear our feelings reflected by another person, it’s
fulfilling & we can feel understood
As a listener, we watch for clues about how the other
person is feeling:
o Feelings they have said
o Feelings they have implied in their story or tone
o Non-verbal expressions and body language
Perception check – then we repeat back what we think we
heard or observed to see if we read them right
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o “You sound…” or “It sounds like…”
o “You seem…” or “It seems like…”
o “I am noticing that…”
Don’t tell the other person that you KNOW how they feel:
o This can cause the other person to become angry or
defensive
o Our feelings & experiences are entirely individual
Don’t judge, discount, or dismiss the other person’s
feelings
When you reflect back the other person’s feeling, don’t
sound annoyed or angry:
o The goal is LISTENING, not reacting
o Your tone should be empathetic, not value-laden
Important to also be sensitive to what they are ready to
talk about and not push it too far

Being Wrong – It’s a Good Thing!


This is a case where it’s totally fine to be wrong
You have still communicated that you CARE
Listen carefully – if you’ve named their feelings incorrectly,
the next thing that you will likely hear is exactly what they
are feeling.
Maybe your gut says that you named their feelings
correctly but they are saying that you are incorrect.
(especially when you are guessing based on non-verbals)
They may not be ready to talk about those feelings. The
key is that you’ve still shown that you care & that you are
not judging those feelings.

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TOOL: VOCABULARY OF FEELINGS

Sad

Glad

Mad

Afraid

Feelings When Needs ARE Being Met:
Absorbed
Affectionate
Alert
Alive
Amazed
Animated
Appreciative
Blissful
Calm
Carefree
Cheerful

Comfortable
Confident
Contented
Curious
Delighted
Enchanted
Encouraged
Energetic
Enlivened
Expansive
Expectant

Free
Friendly
Fulfilled
Glad
Grateful
Happy
Helpful
Hopeful
Inspired
Intense
Involved
Joyful
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Loving
Optimistic
Peaceful
Pleasant
Proud
Refreshed
Relaxed
Satisfied
Secure

Feelings When Needs ARE NOT Being Met
Afraid
Aggravated
Agitated
Alarmed
Angry
Annoyed
Anxious
Apathetic
Apprehensive
Ashamed
Bitter

Concerned
Confused
Dejected
Disappointed
Discouraged
Disgruntled
Dismayed
Displeased
Dull
Edgy

Embarrassed
Exasperated
Exhausted
Fearful
Frightened
Furious
Gloomy
Guilty
Helpless
Hesitant
Hostile

Impatient
Indifferent
Jealous
Lonely
Nervous
Overwhelmed
Passive
Reluctant
Resentful

Source: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by
Marshall Rosenberg
Feeling Words:
HAPPY
Bouyant
Brisk
Calm
Carefree
Cheerful
Comfortable
Complacent
Contented
Ecstatic

Elated
Enthusiastic
Excited
Exhilarated
Festive
Generous
Glad
Grateful
Hilarious
Inspired
Joyous

Jubilant
Lighthearted
Merry
Optimistic
Peaceful
Playful
Pleased
Relaxed
Restful
Satisfied
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Serene
Surprised
Spirited
Thrilled
Vivacious
EAGER
Anxious
Ardent
Avid
Desire

Earnest
Enthusiastic
Excited
Intent
Keen
Proud
Zealous
SAD
Ashamed
Blah
Choked up
Concerned
Disappointed
Discontented
Discouraged
Dismal
Dreadful
Dreary
Dul
Embarrassed
Flat
Gloomy
Heavyhearted
Ill at ease
Low
Melancholy

Moody
Mournful
Somber
Sorrowful
Sulky
Sullen
Shameful
Unhappy
Useless
Worthless

ANGRY
Annoyed
Awkward
Belligerent
Bewildered
Bitter
Boiling
Confused
Cross
Enraged
Frustrated
Fuming
Furious
Grumpy
Indignant
Inflamed
Infuriated
Irate
Irritated
Offended
Outraged
Provoked
Resentful
Stubborn
Sulky
Sullen
Wrathful

HURT
Aching
Afflicted
Cold
Crushed
Despair
Distressed
Heartbroken
Injured
Isolated
Lonely
Offended
Pained
Pathetic
Suffering
Tortured
Worried

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FEARLESS
Bold
Brave
Confident
Courageous
Daring
Determined
Encouraged
Hardy
Heroic
Impulsive
Independent
Loyal
Proud
Reassured
Secure
INTERESTED
Absorbed
Concerned
Curious
Engrossed
Excited
Fascinated
Intrigued

DOUBTFUL
Defeated
Dubious
Evasive
Distrustful
Helpless
Hesitant
Hopeless
Indecisive
Perplexed
Pessimistic
Powerless
Questioning
Skeptical
Suspicious
Unbelieving
Uncertain
Wavering
PHYSICAL
Alive
Breathless
Empty
Feisty

Hollow
Immobilized
Nauseated
Paralyzed
Repulsed
Sluggish
Stretched
Strong
Sweaty
Taut
Tense
Tired
Uptight
Weak
Weary

MISC.
Bored
Cruel
Distant
Envious
Humble
Jealous
Preoccupied
Torn
AFRAID
Alarmed
Anxious
Appalled
Apprehensive

AFFECTIONATE
Appealing
Close
Loving
Passionate
Tender
Warm

Awed
Cautious
Cowardly
Dependent
Dismayed
Doubtful
Fearful

Source: John Savage, Listening & Caring Skills, page 52.

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Fidgety
Frightened
Gutless
Hesitant
Horrified
Hysterical
Impatient
Insecure
Nervous
Panicky
Petrified
Pressured
Shaky
Shocked
Scared
Suspicious
Terrified
Threatened
Timid
Tragic
Worried

EVALUATING A CONVERSATION
It will be very helpful to both the listener and the care receiver
if the listener will occasionally take the time to evaluate a
caring conversation. In grading there is a natural tendency to
favor ourselves. If the evaluation is to serve its purpose, we
must try to be as objective about it as we can. When making
the evaluation the listen will benefit by assuming the
impressions of the person who was cared for. From the
viewpoint of the care receiver, try to evaluate the call that was
made as if you were calling upon yourself.
1. When I made the call, was the time of my call convenient
for them? Did I think about their convenience?
2. Did I let them chose the subject of the conversation, or did
I influence it?
3. How much of the time was the conversation focused on
myself? Half? A fourth? Practically none?
4. How much of the talking did I do? Practically all? Half? A
fourth?
5. How long did I stay? Too long; not long enough; about
right?
6. Did I bore the patient, with my problems or with the
problems of others?
7. Did I criticize anyone caring for that person?
8. When the conversation lagged did I know I should leave?
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9. When I said that I was going did I end the conversation?
10. Did the patient thank me for calling? Say that the
conversation was helpful?
11. Did I tell anyone anything that they told me in confidence?
What?
12. How did I feel later about the visit? Good; bad; indifferent?
(or another feeling word?)
13. Rereading this evaluation, answered as honestly as I could,
how can I improve future conversations?
The foregoing is a “soul-searching” evaluation and I doubt if
very many would score perfectly on all the questions. If you
were brutally critical of yourself and scored only one half of
them as correct for your call the chances are that you were
helpful by showing your love and concern. However, if you
scored low on 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 11, your call was harmful, and
you should try desperately to improve in these areas. If you
scored yourself perfectly on all of them, you are either one of a
few of the perfect callers or you have over-estimated yourself.

Adapted from Developing a Caring Community, Alban Institute

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Notes:

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Notes:

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